After five years of hard work, Gitenderi Environment Project Community Group in Gitenderi parish, Nyarusiza Sub County, Kisoro District organized a party to celebrate their efforts in completing the construction of a 1.5 Km stone wall referred to as a “buffalo wall.”
The party was organized on 18th April at Rurembwe primary school. Excited about their achievement, the group members enthusiastically ran back and forth organizing for the day. Everybody was busy doing a thing or two; welcoming guests, erecting tents, arranging and cleaning seats, cooking and decorating the venue. Not even the morning rains and cold could stop them. Everything was done with a lot of care, warmth, and energy; all exhibiting a high level of organization that shows a tight-knit and highly functional community organization.
Tired of the crop raids and destruction by wild animals from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the community in Gitenderi agreed that enough was enough: something to keep the animals away from their gardens needed to be done. Apparently this situation had created a bad relationship between the Park and the community, increased food insecurity and also frustrated conservation efforts. However with support from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) under the revenue sharing fund and the coalition International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), the community was guided and facilitated to explore long term solutions to this challenge. Because of its outstanding work, commitment and vigilance, UWA selected Gitenderi Environment Project Group to lead in the erection of this wall with a small pay for their labor. The group, among others, collected, and carried stones to the construction venue and also constructed the wall. The community on the other hand provided the stones from their farms and homesteads.
Explaining their work, the group Chairperson Mr. Sebutozi David says “the beginning was not easy, we faced resistance from some community members. They wanted us to pay for the stones because they thought UWA had paid us handsomely to do the job, but we managed to win their support through sensitization meetings conducted with the Local Councils and park authorities. It was a tiresome task, especially collecting and carrying the stones uphill to the site, a distance of approximately 2 Kilometers. But we are glad that we did not give up; completing the buffalo wall is a big milestone to us, because we can see the fruits from our labor. That is why we have invited everyone (the community and local leaders) plus our friends (UWA, IGCP and other NGOs) to thank them for their support and to celebrate this achievement with us”. Sebutozi revealed that in addition to constructing the wall they also sensitized the community on the importance of conserving the park and tree planting. And today approximately 50% of the community is knowledgeable about the importance of conservation while 5,000 trees have also been planted in the community.
Human wildlife conflict is one of the biggest challenges faced by communities adjacent to protected areas. It frustrates conservation efforts of wildlife, protected areas and also undermines community development. According to Dr. Dennis Babaasa , human wildlife conflict is the major cause of negative attitudes of local communities towards protected areas, antagonism and intolerance towards wildlife. In many communities some deterrents – like construction of buffalo walls, digging trenches, planting Mauritius thorns – or planting alternative crops/plants in the community – have been undertaken to reduce/manage this challenge. Throughout the Virunga Massif spanning Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, IGCP has supported park authorities and other partners over the last decade to establishphysical deterrents along the boundary. Initial reports indicate success in terms of improved park – community relations, reduced encroachment on the park by the community, reduced crop raids and consequent increased food security at household level.Deeper assessments are underway.
The case of Gitenderi has proven that although collaborative efforts of all stakeholders are an effective way of addressing human wildlife conflict, a community-led approach ensures greater success and ownership of any initiative undertaken. The success registered is attributed to the hard work, and commitment of Gitenderi Environment project community group, who selflessly put service above self and erected the 1.5 km stone wall for the community. Hearing the group’s four years’ story of hard work and seeing the results from it, there is no doubt that Gitenderi Environment project community group is a model community group which has won the trust of the community, local leaders and different partners supporting this project.
Speaking at the function the Conservation Area Manager Mr. Pontious Ezuma revealed that the community group had done something humbling and unusual; “I am so pleased to be attending a party organized by the community to celebrate their efforts. Gitenderi Environment project community group, has made UWA proud. This is a very good example of how, the community and partners can work together to end development/conservation challenges. All is success and success”, Mr. Ezuma remarked. In a related development, the Warden, Mr. Christopher Masaba expressed joy at how powerful the group he supported in its inception in 2009 as just a small buffalo wall management committee has grown into a big, vigilant and empowered community group. “This is a very strong and impressive group, we shall engage and entrust them with many more conservation assignments” Masaba noted. He added that the completion and maintenance of the buffalo wall supports sustainable conservation and improved livelihoods.
Other local leaders like the LCIII and LCII equally acknowledged the commendable work done by the community group and pledged to support them in all their conservation efforts especially protecting/maintaining the buffalo wall. The LCIII, Mr. Jackson Niyonzima also thanked the group for undertaking an all-inclusive approach that has seen more marginalized Batwa involved in community/development initiatives. “Thanks for empowering the Batwa as well” he noted.
Commenting about the completed wall and the Gitenderi Environment project community group, David Nyabaseka, a community member says he is grateful to the group for addressing a long time challenge; “I checked this morning and there were no animals, I can’t believe that crop raiding is going to become history. I am grateful that I offered stones for the construction and more so to this benevolent group for their hard work” David says. Nyirabafumbira adds, “We are now assured of more yields from our fields and enough food for our families”. On behalf of IGCP, Wellard Makambo thanked the group for making good use of IGCP support, and for making it through the odds and challenges to do great conservation work. He re-echoed IGCP’s continued support to the conservation of the mountain gorilla and community development. Wellard Makambo, represented the IGCP Director Anna Behm Masozera as Chief Guest at the party, who was given a beautiful plaque which now proudly hangs in the IGCP Directorate office.